Spirited Away: Visiting Xitou Monster Village Taiwan
Since its launch in 2011, Xitou Monster Village (溪頭妖怪村) in Nantou, Taiwan has become a red-hot destination. On weekends, this Japanese-style fantasy village becomes flooded with tourists. At first sight, you may be tempted to think that Monster Village is a gimmicky tourist trap with souvenirs and novelty foods, but after digging into the background story, you'll see that it is an interesting place where dreams came true.
On our trip to central Taiwan, we hopped over to Monster Village for lunch after a morning hike in Xitou Nature Education Area (溪頭自然教育園區). After a quiet stay in the misty woods, it was fun to regain grounds with warm colors and warm people.
At the entrance of Monster Village, you are welcomed to pass through the bright-red tori-i (鳥居) gate, usually seen at entrances of Shinto shrines symbolizing the transition from the profane to the spiritual. In this case, you are welcomed into the fantasy world with Japanese spiritual characters. If you've seen Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away (2001), then stepping into Monster Village will remind you of Chihiro's journey to the spirit world.
Monster Village's official name is Matsubayashi-bashi (松林町), named after a Taiwanese man with the adopted name of Matsubayashi (松林) who lived under Japanese rule. Matsubayashi developed a strong friendship with Kubota (久保田), the Japanese official of the Nature Educational Area of Tokyo Imperial University, now the Xitou Nature Educational Area. The two men developed an enduring friendship despite the cultural context and aftermaths of WWII. Kubota returned to Japan and struggled with his new destiny. He started a bakery but it later burned down and he lost his wife at the incident.
Today in Monster Village you'll find Kubota Bakery, named in remembrance of Matsubayashi's dear friend. The bakery produces the highly sought-after nettle bread (咬人貓麵包), and tourists line up hours in advance to get it.
Matsubayashi's son later started Ming Shan Hotel (明山會館) in Xitou, but after the 1980s, Xitou's tourism business dwindled when Taiwanese tourists started to favor traveling abroad instead of at home, and the hotel became a dated and forgotten inn. In the early 2000s, Matsubayashi's grandson started envisioning a different future for this property. His most effective weapons? Vision and storytelling.
And thus from an obscure inn in the mountains, second generation hotelier Mr. Lin (the real Chinese family name) worked with a young designer and brought forth the concept of Monster Village based on family tales and central Taiwan's deep cultural connection and nostalgia of Japanese culture. From conception to realization, the project took 10 years of planning, sketching, trials and errors, it even endured a year-long halt due to a devastating typhoon. Finally, Monster Village of Ming Shan Hotel became its own entity and started attracting crowds from all over Asia.
The success of Monster Village brought on a tourism renaissance to Xitou. New businesses were started, jobs were created, and people came back to admire the beauty of the bamboo forests and the high-altitude tea plantations in the region. All thanks to some family tales, a story of friendship, and vivid imaginations of a fantasy world.
With the stories in mind, you'll find yourself less offended by the many souvenir shops with the pseudo-Japanese theme, but you'll start to see the interesting mix of Japanese and Chinese cultures that is unique to Taiwan.
An integral part of Taiwanese culture is the street food culture. At Monster Village you'll be dazzled by the varieties of street food. The ambiance is even better at night, when the village transforms into a night market teeming with exotic tastes and smells, and with a unique atmosphere lit by hundreds of red lanterns.
For lunch, try some zongzi (bamboo leaf-wrapped savory glutinous rice), pan-friend baozi, or some Taiwanese sausages, all can be consumed easily on the go.
Don't miss the charcoal and matcha flavored swirl ice cream, the striking black and green colors make it a bestselling item at Monster Village.
One of our favorites snacks is the grilled mochi (yakimochi) on a stick drizzled with condensed milk. With that crispy yet chewy texture and the rich, creamy flavor, this snack is a guaranteed palate-pleaser.
If you can't get into the habit of eating while window-shopping like most Taiwanese do, there's a picnic area with benches and no tables. The beauty of that arrangement is that you'll be prompted to chat with your fellow visitors without the barriers of tables.
After the meal, kids can delight in some fishing fun. Do look out for the monsters (costumed actors) that can pop up behind you sometimes.
Monster Village is definitely worth a detour if you're visiting Xitou and its surrounding areas. It's wacky fun to find a Japanese monster village in the mountains of Taiwan, but now you know, it's a dream world where visions and stories come true.
Where to Stay
This hotel is why Monster Village exists in the first place. Stay here and be delighted by the many monster-related details.
Here's the map to Xitou Monster Village:
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